University of Portland students stage silent protest for LGBTQ inclusion

Y Hoang (left), a Catholic from Vietnam, and Shanay Healy, who grew up in Ashland and does not identify as Christian, are both seniors who were drawn to the University of Portland's mission of "teaching, faith, and service."
Y Hoang (left), a Catholic from Vietnam, and Shanay Healy, who grew up in Ashland and does not identify as Christian, are both seniors who were drawn to the University of Portland’s mission of “teaching, faith, and service.” Photo by Julie Cortez
By Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly

As the University of Portland bell tower announced the noon hour, students and a handful of faculty and staff walked from the St. Mary’s Student Center to the campus quad today, most with signs in hand and many with tape over their mouths as they demonstrated in support of the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Catholic university’s non-discrimination policy.

Upwards of 100 supporters stood silently in the quad throughout the two-hour protest, the latest effort of the student-led “Redefine Purple Pride” campaign, which also includes a petition and a letter writing campaign. (Read more of PQ Monthly’s coverage of the campaign and UP President Fr. Bill Beauchamp’s remarks justifying LGBTQ exclusion from the anti-discrimination policy here.)

Photo by Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly
Photo by Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly

Shanay Healy, a senior studying organizational communication and Spanish, became involved in organizing the campaign and demonstration after getting “fired up” by Beauchamp’s remarks last week.

“I identify as queer, and I’ve felt my own silencing on this campus and I’ve heard just too many stories of other non-majority groups and persons that have felt discriminated against and silenced and devalued here,” she told PQ Monthly. “And it’s not just UP, it’s the whole world, obviously.”

Healy said there have been discussions of the non-discrimination policy throughout her time at UP, and every year or two the discussion and frame of inclusion is expanded a little further. “But this was the first time that so many people were fired up at the same time,” she said. “So I just felt that the time was now.”

Y Hoang, a senior bio-chemistry student minoring in music, handed out fliers explaining the Redefine Purple Pride’s mission and goals. Hoang, who identities as gay and Catholic and serves as vice president of the school’s Gay Straight Partnership club, said that when discussions about the campaign began, “I got hurtful comments and what felt like personal attacks. So it was hard at the beginning, but now coming together I have this amazing support system [and] those comments don’t mean anything to me anymore.”

The group’s action drew quiet signs of support from passersby, from high-fives to hugs to hushed questions. Nursing professor Pamela Potter walked around the entire circle of protestors, shaking each participant’s hand before briefly joining the demonstration.

Nursing professor Pamela Potter. Photo by Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly.
Nursing professor Pamela Potter (right). Photo by Julie Cortez, PQ Monthly.

“We ignore things,” she said. “We just let people be invisible, and I don’t want to be invisible, and I just thought that was my way of [showing] solidarity.”

“At University of Portland, we teach equality,” Potter added. “… We teach about diversity and equality. This is the students deciding something needs to shift and change. It’s time.”

According to Healy, next on the campaign’s agenda is rest. “We’ve all been going really strong for over a week,” she said. “We also want to give time to everyone else that’s been just hearing about this time to process, and the administration time to process and respond, and that’ll kind of determine where we go. But this group, this community, won’t go away. And right now it’s about LGBTQ, but it’s not always about that. It’s about all non-majority persons.”